Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

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Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:46 pm

Salvaged from the wreckage of the old ATU:


This one needs rebuilding.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Wed Jun 08, 2011 3:24 am

How any individual starts off looking like like:

Antonin ("Little Anthony") Artaud in Carl Theodor Dreyer's film The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928.

...and ends up looking like this:

Artaud le Momo (Artaud the Madman) in his final year.

....and what he did in between those two photos will be the narrative of this thread- when I eventually get around to reconstructing the now irrecoverable ATUI Artaud thread.

Moony should be back soon- and I know she liked the original- so that might give me some further incentive to get cracking on this.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:54 pm


Theatre of Cruelty

Artaud believed that theatre should affect the audience as much as possible, therefore he used a mixture of strange and disturbing forms of lighting, sound, and other performance elements.

In his book The Theatre and Its Double, which contained the first and second manifesto for a "Theatre of Cruelty," Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinese. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized and precise physicality of Balinese dance performance, and advocated what he called a "Theatre of Cruelty". At one point, he stated that by cruelty he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all theatre is physical expression in space.

The Theatre of Cruelty has been created in order to restore to the theatre a passionate and convulsive conception of life, and it is in this sense of violent rigour and extreme condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on which it is based must be understood. This cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but not systematically so, can thus be identified with a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid to pay life the price it must be paid.
– Antonin Artaud, The Theatre of Cruelty, in The Theory of the Modern Stage (ed. Eric Bentley), Penguin, 1968, p.66

Evidently, Artaud's various uses of the term cruelty must be examined to fully understand his ideas. Lee Jamieson has identified four ways in which Artaud used the term cruelty. First, it is employed metaphorically to describe the essence of human existence. Artaud believed that theatre should reflect his nihilistic view of the universe, creating an uncanny connection between his own thinking and Nietzsche's[citation needed] :

[Nietzsche's] definition of cruelty informs Artaud's own, declaring that all art embodies and intensifies the underlying brutalities of life to recreate the thrill of experience ... Although Artaud did not formally cite Nietzsche, [their writing] contains a familiar persuasive authority, a similar exuberant phraseology, and motifs in extremis ...
– Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.21-22

Artaud's second use of the term (according to Jamieson), is as a form of discipline. Although Artaud wanted to "reject form and incite chaos" (Jamieson, p. 22), he also promoted strict discipline and rigor in his performance techniques. A third use of the term was ‘cruelty as theatrical presentation’. The Theatre of Cruelty aimed to hurl the spectator into the centre of the action, forcing them to engage with the performance on an instinctive level. For Artaud, this was a cruel, yet necessary act upon the spectator designed to shock them out of their complacency:

Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them.
– Lee Jamieson, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007, p.23

Artaud wanted to (but never did) put the audience in the middle of the 'spectacle' (his term for the play), so they would be 'engulfed and physically affected by it'. He referred to this layout as being like a 'vortex' - a constantly shifting shape - 'to be trapped and powerless'.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:00 pm
Balinese Theatre- Chuck chuck chuck.

In July 1931, Artaud saw a troupe of Balinese actors that so impressed him that the Balinese theatre became a metaphor for everything theatre could be. The Oriental drama provided an alternative philosophical view and a unique theatrical experience based on gesture. For him, it was a ritualistic theatre that bridged the gap between art and life. Through the art of the Balineses, he understood that a play could become a weapon to whip up irrational forces, where the spectator was afforded the priviledge of becoming a participant. He saw theatre as life affiirming, cathartic and therapeutic, where spectators could purge their desire to be violent by watching it live.

What struck him about the Balinese was: "The spectacle offers us a marvellous complex of pure stage images..a whole new language seems to have been invented," he wrote. "These actors with their geometric robes seem to be living, moving hieroglyphs..." which are in turn brocaded with a certain number of gestures — mysterious signs which correspond to some unknown, fabulous and obscure reality..." Artaud felt that the Balinese had realized the essence of pure theatre because they gave absolute power to the director, who in turn created a theatrical language developed in space through the mise en scene. The Balinese theatre revealed to him "a physical and non-verbal idea of the theatre...independent of written text...a theatre that victoriously demonstrates the absolute preponderance of the director whose creative power eliminates words. " Struck by the fact that he couldn't speak the language, yet certain he understood the intent through their sub-text of gesture, Artaud visualized a new stage language independent of text. "The stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete physical language to speak...based on signs, gestures and symbols..." But, before he could elevate theatre to an autonomous art of the same rank as music, painting and dance, he had to liberate Western theatre from being a branch of literature, and the director from the autocratic rule of the playwright.

^ Extracted from "The Cruel Theatre of Antonin Artaud". MacLean Hunter Scholarship, Literary Journalism program at the Banff Centre, Banff, AB. © 1990

Last edited by eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 7:31 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Guest on Sun Jun 12, 2011 3:00 pm

eddie wrote:Moony should be back soon- and I know she liked the original- so that might give me some further incentive to get cracking on this.

Hey Eddie...I'm 800 kilometres from home at the moment. My old computer is with a techie who will try to salvage what he can after tomorrow's public holiday. He is also going to do an installation on the computer that Tatiana sent me, and advise me about virus and malware protection. I should be back in action next week and my first stop will probably be here. cheers

I'm in a resort town on a public computer that overlooks a beautiful beach. The smell of croissants and brewing coffee accompanies the's a far cry from the claustophobic storage room in the bait shop at home (where we refer to the 'coast' rather than the 'beach' golden sands and rippling waves at home...rather than that we have mangrove mud and shellgrit).

Thanks for trying to salvage this site. It's the one that drew me in. Smile


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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:08 pm

Hey, Moony! cheers

Good to see you back here.

Speak soon, I hope.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 7:43 pm

Jean Louis Barrault in Marcel Carnet's 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradis.

The actor Jean-Louis Barrault and Artaud had an special friendship. Artaud was so excited by Barrault's "dramatic action" of Autoru d'une mere, based on Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, in which he mimed a marvellous centaur, that Artaud bestowed upon Barrault the accolades had hoped to receive himself. In a review, Artaud describes Barrault as demonstrating an irresistible expressiveness of gesture that filled the stage with life and emotion. After the performance, Barrault recalls that the two of them "went down the boulevard on two imaginary horses, galloping as far as the Place Blanche. There he suddenly left me, drunk with enthusiasm." To Jean-Louis Barrault, "he was essentially an aristocrat. Artaud was a prince."

^ Extracted from "The Cruel Theatre of Antonin Artaud". MacLean Hunter Scholarship, Literary Journalism program at the Banff Centre, Banff, AB. © 1990

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 7:51 pm
Artaud as the monk Massieu in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 7:55 pm

Artaud as Marat in Napoleon, 1927- directed by Abel Gance.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 8:02 pm

My dear friend,
I believe I have found a suitable title for my book.
It will be:
for if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre, but it has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde's ideas on Art. This title will comply with all the doubles of the theatre which I thought I'd found for so many years: metaphysics, plague, cruelty,
the pool of energies which constitute Myths, which man no longer embodies, is embodied by the theatre. By this double I mean the great magical agent of which the theatre, through its forms, is only the figuration on its way to becoming the transfiguration.
It is on the stage that the union of thought, gesture and action is reconstructed. And the double of the Theatre is reality untouched by the men of today.

Artaud, Letter to Jean Paulhan.
25th January, 1936.
(Schumacher 1989, 87-88)

Artaud's idea of "cruelty": a mode in which one is shocked bodily into an awareness of the undomesticated or the uncanny. It is as if, suddenly, in the midst of reassuringly familiar forms, a space opens up, lit by a strange light.

(Tharu 1984, 57)

The cutting edge of this critique can still move towards forms of more general revolt (as in some examples of feminist theatre); but more characteristically it settles in the attempted breakthrough to authentic individual experience from below this standardized consciousness, or in the very demonstration of the impossibility of such a break. There is then a movement from presenting the bourgeois world as at once domineering and grotesque to an insistence--in certain forms a satisfied and even happy insistence--that changing this is impossible, is indeed literally inconceivable while the dominant consciousness bears down. This takes a special form in theatre in what is offered as a rejection of language. If words "arrest and paralyse thought" it may be possible, as Artaud hoped, to substitute "for the spoken language a different language of nature, whose expressive possibilities will be equal to verbal language": a theatre of visual movement and of the body. In such ways, the fixed forms of representation can be perpetually broken, not by establishing new forms but by showing their persistent pressure and tyranny. One main emphasis within this is to render all activity and speech as illusory and to value theatre, in its frankly illusory character, as the privileged bearer of this universal truth.

(Williams 1989, 93)

The spectator, a detached observer no longer, would be engulfed by the spectacle, bombarded by colors, lights, and sounds. About him would swirl huge masks, giant mannekins, hieroglyphics, objects "of strange proportions," and creatures "in ritual costumes." All this so as to subvert his judgment and unseat his normal sense of himself, send seismic shock waves coursing through him, to teach him his helplessness in the face of the powers that rule human life. Though Artaud's doctrine of helplessness stands at the opposite pole from the message of freedom which Rousseau wished to promote through his civic festivals--though indeed it recalls the antique doctrine of fate which Rousseau regarded as one of the most odious features of classical drama, and made him long to abolish it--nevertheless Artaud shares with Rousseau, as also with the backward-looking Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy, a vision of theater as a mass event in which impersonation disappears, fiction vanishes, and the spectator loses himself amid the swarm of excitants that assail him. With the actor discarded as a representative of humanity, or swallowed up in his distorting masks and exaggerating costumes, with the division annulled between stage and spectator, theater becomes a participatory rite meant to arouse and overwhelm the spectator with intense states of consciousness. Whether in joy or panic, he is made to merge directly with his fellows, to submerge his consciousness in theirs, to experience reality unmediated, instead of seeing it transferred or delegated to others.

(Barish 1981, 455)

It demands that we consider the phenomenon, not for the end it achieves in the world, (its utility or function) but as a sign that reveals, through its transformation of the act into the spectacular, the sense or the lived meaning of that gesture. This sense, Artaud never allows us to ignore, is a sense that must arise from a bodily being in the world. The theatre is not concerned with the total clarity that comes from a possession of the object any more than it is with imitation, he insists. Its fascination is carnal; complete.

(Tharu 1984, 59-60)

Such theatre, however, does not merely "frame" an event from real life turning it into spectacle by the very act . . . . What the theatre does, rather, is to aid this transformation, by locating in the outer event the sources that speak to the body and swelling these out or taking them to their limit . . . . One works by creating "temptations, vacuums" around ideas and things. Vacuums that draw the body towards the object which then reveals itself. . . .
To create a space thus, at a pre-thematic, corporeal level, is not merely to present something, but also to take us back to the very origins of these struggles, where all the "powers of nature are newly rediscovered."

(Tharu 1984, 60)

[A]nd I will devote myself from now on
to the theatre
as I conceive it,
a theatre of blood,
a theatre which at each performance will stir
in the body
of the performer as well as the spectator of the play,
but actually,
the actor does not perform,
he creates.
Theatre is in reality the genesis of creation:
It will come about.

Artaud, Letter to Paule Thévenin.
Tuesday 24th February, 1948.
(Schumacher 1989, 200)

© Terence Smith, 1997.
Performance Theory.
15th October, 1997.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 8:19 pm

Brief biography from the Gale Encyclopoedia of Biography:

Antonin-Marie-Joseph Artaud was born in Marseilles on September 4, 1896, the son of a wealthy shipfitter and a mother from a Greek background. At age five he suffered a near-fatal attack of meningitis, the results of which remained with him for the rest of his life.

He was educated at the Coll'e du Sacré Coeur in Marseilles and at 14 founded a literary magazine, which he kept going for almost four years. Still in his teens, he began to have sharp head pains, which continued throughout his life. In 1914 he was the victim of an attack of neurasthenia and was treated in a rest home; the following year he was given opium to alleviate his pain, and he became addicted within a few months.

He was inducted into the army in 1916, but was released in less than a year on grounds of both mental instability and drug addiction. In 1918 he committed himself to a clinic in Switzerland, where he remained until 1920.

On his release, he went immediately to Paris, still under medical supervision, and began to study with Charles Dullin, an actor and director. He soon began to find jobs as a stage and screen actor and as a set and costume designer. Within the next decade, he appeared on film in Fait Divers and Surcourt - le roi des corsairs (1924); Abel Gance's Na-poléon Boneparte (1925); La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928); Tarakanowa (1929); G. W. Pabst's Dreigroschenoper, made in Berlin (1930); and Les Croix des Bois, Faubourg Montmartre, and Femme d'une nuit (all 1930). On stage he had roles in He Who Gets Slapped (1923), Six Characters in Search of an Author (1924), and R.U.R. (1924).

At the same time, Artaud became seriously interested in the surrealist movement headed by André Breton and in 1923 published a volume of symbolist verse strongly influenced by Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Rimbaud, Tric trac du ciel (Backgammon of the Sky). Two years later, at the height of his involvement with the surrealists, he published L'Ombilic des limbes (Umbilical Limbo), a collection of letters, poems in prose, and bits of dialogue; it contained one complete work, the five-minute playlet Le Jet de sang (The Jet of Blood), which was finally produced in 1964.

Artaud broke with the organized surrealist movement in 1926, when Breton became a Communist and attempted to take his fellow-members with him into the party. Yet Artaud continued to view himself as a surrealist and in 1927 wrote the filmscript for La Coquille et le clergyman, perhaps the most famous surrealist film, and Les P'e-nerfs (Nerve Scales), another collection containing various literary forms.

As A Producer

It was also in 1927 that he joined with Roger Vitrac and Robert Aron to found the Théâtre Alfred Jarry, named for the author of the 1896 play Ubu roi, which had so shocked the theatrical establishment of its time. Their theater had no permanent home, so they leased space in established theaters. In their first year they presented two programs, the first an evening of three one-act plays, one contributed by each of the founders, and Léon Poirier's Verdun, visions d'histoire. The following year they produced one evening which combined the film of Maxim Gorky's The Mother and the last act of Paul Claudel's Partage de midi, another of Strindberg's Dream Play, and their final effort, Vitrac's Victor ou les enfants du pouvoir.

Working as a theatrical producer gave Artaud an insight into the exigencies of the practical aspects of theater, with which he was not happy. Then, in 1931, he saw a Balinese drama at the French Colonial Exposition in Paris and found in this work, which stressed spectacle and dance, the ideal for which he had been searching.

As A Theoretician

In 1932-1933 he published his first work of dramatic theory, Manifestes du théâtre de la cruauté (Manifestos of the Theater of Cruelty), and in 1935 staged the first work based on his theories, an adaptation of Les Cenci, heavily dependent on the earlier works on that theme by the British poet Shelley and the French novelist Stendhal. Since one of Artaud's theories involved the breaking of the barrier between actors and audience, Les Cenci may be have been the first play ever staged in the round. In any event, it was a total failure.

Shattered, Artaud went to Mexico in 1930 and stayed there for the better part of a year, spending some time with the sun-worshipping Tarahumara Indians. On his return to France, he became engaged to a Belgian girl and tried to end his drug dependence. In May of 1937, giving a lecture in Brussels, he went completely out of control and began screaming at the audience. In the fall of that same year, on a visit to Ireland, he was declared mentally unfit, put in a straitjacket, and sent back to France. Ironically, it was shortly thereafter that his most important and influential work, Le Théâtre et son double (The Theater and Its Double), was published.

Diagnosed as schizophrenic, Artaud spent the next nine years in mental institutions, returning to Paris in triumph, acclaimed as a genius after his three-hour lecture-reading to an audience which included Nobel laureate Andre Gide, future Nobel laureate Albert Camus, and André Breton. Artaud died of cancer on March 4, 1948, in a rest home near Paris. Unlike his fellow theoretician of the drama, Bertolt Brecht, whose plays have been widely honored and frequently performed, Artaud had no success at all with his endeavors in drama, poetry, or fiction. His reputation rests entirely on his critical work.

In a word, Artaud called for a theater that is anti-intellectual. He believed that the drama of the past 400 years had become sterile and had no future. In the essay "No More Masterpieces" he laid the blame for the psychologically oriented drama on Shakespeare and elsewhere blamed Racine, but, wherever the responsibility lies, he asserted that the attempts "to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and ordinary" had brought the theater to the sorry state in which he found it.

Besides the psychological concerns, he also objected to the emphasis on the written word, the primacy of spoken poetry. In "The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto)" he said that "it is essential to put an end to the subjugation of the theater to the text and to recover the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought."

What Artaud offered as a substitute was the Theater of Cruelty. In the essays "Letters on Cruelty," Artaud said, "This cruelty is a matter of neither sadism nor bloodshed. …" He went on, "I do not systematically cultivate horror … cruelty signifies rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination." He added, "It is a mistake to give the word 'cruelty' a meaning of merciless bloodshed and disinterested gratuitous pursuit of physical suffering. … Cruelty is above all lucid, a kind of rigid control and submission to necessity. There is no cruelty without consciousness. …"

Yet, at the same time, it must be remembered that in one of his staged works Artaud picked as the theme the Cencis, a tale of rape, incest, and murder; that another of his works concerned the warped and dissolute Roman emperor Heliogabalus, and that one of his favorite British plays was 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, also about incest and murder.

What Artaud's Theater of Cruelty had to offer instead of the conventional was a theater in which spectacle played the main role. Instead of poetic language, there would be a series of sounds and " … these intonations will constitute a kind of harmonic balance, a secondary deformation of speech. …"

There will be musical instruments, he said, which will be "treated as objects and as part of the set." The lighting will be calculated to produce "an element of thinness, density, and opaqueness, with a view to producing the sensations of heat, cold, anger, fear, etc." The dress should be "age-old costumes of ritualistic intent," while the stage should be "a single site, without partition or barrier of any kind." He adds: "Manikins, enormous masks, objects of strange proportions will appear." As to the set, "There will not be any set." Finally, there will be no script: "We shall not act a written play, but we shall make attempts at direct staging, around themes, facts, or known works."

While Artaud's theory was not successful in eradicating a theater based on texts, it made play-producers more conscious of elaborate sets, of movement (particularly the dance), and of an attention to myth, another of his concerns. Hence, his influence continued to be strong decades after his death in 1948.

Further Reading

No understanding of Artaud would be possible without a reading of the The Theater and Its Double, translated by Mary C. Richards (1958). The best biography in English is Artaud and After by Ronald Hayman (1977). Another excellent appreciation is Artaud by Martin Esslin, and important contributions appear in The Theater of Revolt by Robert Brustein (1964) and Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (1966). Any good history of 20th-century theater will contain a good analysis, e.g., History of the Modern Theater by Tom Driver (1970).

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:08 pm

Artaud's The Jet of Blood:



A Young Man
A Young Girl
A Knight
A Nurse (Wet-Nurse)
A Priest
A Shoemaker
A Sexton
A Whore
A Judge
A Street Peddler
A Thunderous Voice
A scorpian


Jet of Blood is roughly four pages long. It has sparse dialogue and extensive, surreal stage directions. The following synopsis is based on the English translations by George E. Wellwarth and Ruby Cohn (for the original text see Artaud's Oeuvres Completes d'Antonin Artaud vol. 1, pp. 74-81):

The play begins with no description of the scene or stage directions. The characters Young Man and Young Girl repeat the lines, “I love you and everything is beautiful”, “You love me and everything is beautiful,” to one another a couple of times in different, exaggerated tones of voice. After the Young Man declares that the world is beautifully built and well ordered, a sudden violent, chaotic spectacle ensues on stage. This includes a hurricane which separates the Young Man and Young Girl, two stars colliding, assorted things falling from the sky including temples, colonnades, alembics, live pieces of human bodies, three scorpions, a frog, and a beetle which fall slower and slower as they near the ground. The Young Man and Young woman run away, frightened.

The characters of the Knight and the Nurse (or Wet-Nurse) enter. The Knight is wearing a suit of armor from the Middle Ages and the Nurse has enormous swollen breasts. It is implied that these two are the parents of the Young Girl and are somehow related to the Young Man as well. The Nurse claims that she is watching the Young Man and Young Girl “screwing” and that it is “incest.” She throws pieces of Swiss cheese wrapped in paper at the Knight who picks them off the ground and eats them. The Nurse and the Knight exit.

The Young Man returns and describes his surroundings as the town square, naming the town’s characters as they appear on stage. The Priest asks the Young Man about his corporeal body, and the Young Man replies by turning the conversation back to God. The Priest says, in a Swiss accent, that he is less interested in God than in the “dirty little stories we hear in the confessional.” The young man agrees, and following there is another violent spectacle including an earthquake with thunder, lightning, and general panic. A giant hand appears and grabs the Whore’s hair, which bursts into flames. A Thunderous Voice says, “Bitch, look at your body,” after which the Whore’s dress becomes transparent and her body appears hideous and naked underneath. In turn, she bids God leave her and she bites the wrist of the hand, sending an immense jet of blood across the stage.

The lights come up and almost everyone is dead and scattered across the stage. The Young Man and the Whore are still alive and they are mid-coitus and eating each other's eyes. The Nurse enters carrying the body of the Young Girl, which hits the ground and is crushed “flat as a pancake.” The Nurse’s chest has become completely flat as well. The Knight enters demanding more cheese and the Nurse responds by lifting her dress. The Young Man says, “Don’t hurt Mommy” as though he is suspended in the air like a marionette. The Knight covers his face as scorpions crawl out from the Nurse’s vagina. Depending on the translation, the scorpions swarm onto either the Nurse’s or the Knight’s genitalia, which swells up and bursts or splits, becoming glassy/transparent and shining like the sun.

The Young Man and the Whore run away. The Young Girl wakes up dazed and says the final line of the play, “The Virgin! Ah, that’s what he was looking for.”

The final stage direction is simply, “Curtain.”

Themes and Interpretation

Artaud presents a fantastic temporal spectrum of creation and destruction speeded up and slowed down, like a phonograph record. Associating gluttony and lust, sex and violence, even innocence and swinishness, The Spurt of Blood attacks the senses with bizarre sights and sounds as it reaches toward our subconscious impulses and fears. (Cardullo and Knoff 2001, 377)

Some conventional interpretations of this unconventional text address the following themes:

Cruelty (as described in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty)
The creation of the world and its desecration by people, especially women
Mocking of contemporary attitudes while objectifying inner life
The inversion of innocence, love, and security to depravity, lust, and fear
Juxtaposition of virtuous archetypes with their degenerate actions (e.g. the Knight and the Priest)
Blasphemy and human transgressions against God
The wrath of nature
The dangerous fascination of women
“Le mal du ciel” or “heaven-sickness” (Cohn, 317)
Images of destruction are recurring in Jet de Sang, with Artaud starting the audience out with a simple, well-ordered world and repeatedly destroying it, using natural disasters, plagues, and storms to throw typical bourgeois characters into chaos and disarray. It is argued that the ruin left in the wake of this destruction is not the ultimate goal. “Despite its violent overturning of cosmic order… Artaud’s literary transgressions are always matched by cries for reunion with a oneness that has been lost,” (Jannarone, 42).

Since the original title of Jet of Blood was Jet de Sang ou la Boule de Verre, it is argued that Artaud may have written Jet of Blood in part as a parody of a one-act play by one of his contemporaries, a surrealist named Armand Salacrou. La Boule de Verre has many apparent correlations with Jet de Sang. In both plays the four main characters are the Young Man, the Young Girl, a Knight, and a Nurse. In La Boule de Verre, as in Le Jet de Sang, the young couple exchanges declarations of love, then the couples disappear. The Knight and Nurse reveal they are the Young Girl’s parents as well in La Boule de Verre, and the Knight picks up candy wrappers instead of wrapped cheese. There are other associations between the characters in both plays, including the anachronism of the Knight, dependence of the Nurse (Wetnurse), fidelity of the Young Girl, and the idealism of the Young Man (Cohn, 315).

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:20 pm

Extract from Artaud's essay on "Van Gogh: the Man Suicided by Society":

Antonin Artaud

One can speak of the good mental health of Van Gogh who, in his whole adult life, cooked only one of his hands and did nothing else except once to cut off his left ear,
in a world in which every day one eats vagina cooked in green sauce or penis of newborn child whipped and beaten to a pulp,
just as it is when plucked from the sex of its mother.
And this is not an image, but a fact abundantly and daily repeated and cultivated throughout the world.
And this, however delirious this statement may seem, is how modern life maintains its old atmosphere of debauchery, anarchy, disorder, delirium, derangement, chronic insanity, bourgeois inertia, psychic anomaly (for it is not man but the world which has become abnormal), deliberate dishonesty and notorious hypocrisy, stingy contempt for everything that shows breeding.
insistence on an entire order based on the fulfillment of a primitive injustice, in short, of organized crime.
Things are going badly because sick consciousness has a vested interest right now in not recovering from its sickness. This is why a tainted society has invented psychiatry to defend itself against the investigations of certain superior intellects whose faculties of divination would be troublesome.
...In comparison with the lucidity of Van Gogh, which is a dynamic force, psychiatry is no better than a den of apes who are themselves obsessed and persecuted and who possess nothing to mitigate the most appalling states of anguish and human suffocation but a ridiculous terminology,
worthy product of their damaged brains.

An excerpt from "Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society," originally published in Paris, in 1947.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:26 pm


Monsieur Artaud, you are raving!

The executioners are still around
Andréine & Bernard Bel


Seminar: In Homage to Antonin Artaud
Delhi University & National School of Drama
New Delhi, January 1997.
Part of this text was published in a brochure by the Embassy of France in India (D. Sarfaty-Varma, ed.), p.36.


Antonin Artaud was prompt at rejecting floating abstractions, beliefs, common-sense and the glorified gobbledygook that passes for mental sanity among ordinary citizens. He was a threat to "normal" people, although less as an eccentric or a drug addict (like many visionary artists) than in his way of unsettling the communicative functions of language.

Ah, these states that are never named, these eminent positions of the soul, ah, these intermissions of the mind, ah, these minuscule failures which are the nourishment of my hours, ah, this population teeming with facts -- I always use the same words and really I don't seem to advance very much in my thinking, but actually I am advancing more than you, bearded asses, pertinent pigs, masters of the false word, wrappers of portraits, serial writers, groundlings, cattle raisers, entomologists, plague of my speech.

From 1937 to 1946 Artaud was detained in psychiatric hospitals. He was administered insulin therapy and nearly fifty electric shocks provoking states of coma (and even causing the fracture of a dorsal vertebra). His case adds to a notorious list of achievements of "scientific" mental cure, with Vaslav Nijinsky, Camille Claudel, Vincent van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, Wilhelm Reich, Freud's patient Daniel Paul Schreiber, etc. Indeed, none of these cases occurred in a totalitarian state. Yet they did not prompt significant reactions from the intelligentsia their victims belonged to. There was (and still is) a tacit consensus regarding the logical end of a deviant, disturbing and unpredictable behaviour, and psychiatry appeared (appears) the inevitable and dependable solution. In 1939, Jacques Lacan had examined Artaud and told Roger Blin:

He's fixed, he will live up till eighty years of age, he won't write a line any more, he's fixed.

Artaud (1947):

So, society has strangled in its asylums all those it wanted to get rid of or protect itself from, because they refused to become its accomplices in certain great nastiness.

(...) And this is how modern life maintains its old atmosphere of debauchery, anarchy, disorder, delirium, derangement, chronic insanity, bourgeois inertia, psychic anomaly (for it is not man but the world which has become abnormal), deliberate dishonesty and notorious hypocrisy, stingy contempt for everything that shows breeding, (...) in short, of organised crime.

Artaud's argument with his physician in Rodez (who was combining electroconvulsive therapy with "art-therapy") is revealed in the account:

I reminded Dr. Ferdière that I had been in Mexico, and I had climbed up a mountain on horseback during six days to meet a race of indian sorcerers living at the altitude of six thousand meters, that I had found them but had endured numberless spells during 28 days, the impressions of which I had consigned in my little book "A Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara." (...)

He answered: No, you were not bewitched by those indians, it is delirium to believe it, and since your delirium still makes you believe it I am going to write to your friend Jean Paulhan that I intend to administer you a new series of electric shocks.

-- I told him, come on, you've read this book, you've put it into your library as one of the best writings ever done in French since long, so you said, and now you are telling me you are going to treat me for having written it...

-- Indeed, he replied, because I am here to straighten out your poetry.

Artaud saw in Vincent van Gogh a faithful replica of his own torment. After the painter's suicide he wrote:

Dr. Gachet would not tell van Gogh that he was there to straighten out his painting (...) but he used to send him to paint from nature, and bury himself in a landscape to escape the pain of thinking.

Except that, as soon as van Gogh had turned his back, Dr. Gachet turned off the switch of his mind.

(...) I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide, but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit, made me want to hang myself, realising that I would not be able to cut his throat.

In Artaud's view, van Gogh had been "suicided by society" (the "executioners"):

Besides, one does not commit suicide by oneself.

No one has ever been born by oneself.

No one dies by oneself either.

This may be related to the (late) awakening of psychiatrists acknowledging an ineluctable relationship between presumed psychic disorders and social rejection or submission. In 1986, Prof. Edouard Zarifian stated:

Delirium requires at least two persons, as it arises from the other's judgement, and that judgement is based on the socio-cultural norm. At first there is no fundamental difference between the normal and the pathological. Now that I have been around a long time in the practice, I no longer think that one is allowed to say there are mad and normal people: there exist states, that is all.

Nonetheless it is hard to take the popular belief for granted that mental cure has evolved "radically" during the past decades, for the same renovation myth has been proclaimed since the early days of psychiatry. During our animation work in one of the most "advanced" mental cure hospitals in France, in 1992, patients told us the humiliations and punishments they were still enduring.

Neither Heaven nor Hell, if they exist, can do anything against this brutality which they have imposed on me, perhaps so that I may serve them... Who knows?

In any case, in order to lacerate me.

When exorcism had lost credibility, alienated people were thrown to jail, or chained and beaten up in mental asylums. Straitjackets, lobotomy and electric shock treatment were in vogue in Artaud's time (and are occasionally used nowadays). Devices change, but the "executioners" are still around using the ones modern society deems acceptable. Today, the clean and invisible "chemical camisole" of suppressants takes care of preserving cultural and social norms.

When I believed that I was denying this world, I know now that I was denying the Void.

For I know that this world does not exist and I know how it does not exist.

What I have suffered from until now is having denied the Void.

The Void which was already within me.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:34 pm

The correspondence between Artaud and his psychiatrist in the Rodez asylum, Jacques Riviere:

Atraud's doctor, Jacques Riviere.

From the Artaud-Project website:

Correspondance with Jacques Rivière (1923/1924)

Antonin Artaud’s famous Correspondance with Jacques Rivière was published 1924 in the September issue of the Nouvelle Revue Française, at this time the most acclaimed and influential literary magazine in France. After Jacques Rivière’s death in 1925, Artaud published his correspondence again in October 1927 in form of a small brochure. Because of its reputation and its impact, the publication in the NRF was Artaud’s break-through as a literary voice in vanguard Paris during the twenties. After the publication, André Breton contacted Artaud and asked him to join the surrealist group in Paris. Artaud joined the group until their dispute and break-up in 1927.

After his refusal to publish some of Artaud’s poems Rivière was “interested enough […] to want to make the acquantaince of their author.” (SW 31) After the first meeting, Artaud wrote Rivière in regard to his unpower to write poems in a certain style of purity and perfection: “The question of the acceptability of these poems is a problem which concerns you as much as it does to me. I am speaking, of course, of their absolute acceptability, of their literary existence. / I suffer from a horrible sickness of the mind. My thought abandons me at every level. From the simple fact of thought to the external fact of its materialization in words. Words, shapes of sentences, internal directions of thought, simple reactions of the mind – I am in constant pursuit of my intellectual being. Thus as soon as I can grasp a form, however imperfect, I pin it down, for fear of losing the whole thought. I lower myself, I know, and I suffer from it, but I consent to it for fear of dying altogether.” (SW 31)

Thus, Artaud appears as haunted by his unpower to find an appropriate form for the expression of his poetry. He also speaks critical of his poems as “figures of speech” and “awkward expressions” which “stem from the profound uncertainty” of his mind. And he considers himself “fortunate indeed when this uncertainty is not replaced by the absolute nonexistence from which I suffer at times.” (SW 31/32)

Even though if their forms and figures of speech are inappropriate, these poems express and point at least a certain and distinct literary existence and it is this existence Artaud is fighting for. The poems are still manifestations and a rest that is “not replaced by the absolute nonexistence” (SW 32). This “absolute nonexistence”, this existential void is not meant in terms of the “greater or lesser degree of existence which is commonly called inspiration” (32). On the contrary, Artaud’s problem is “a total absence, a real extinction.” (SW 32) Because of this “real extinction” Artaud is not able to produce works but only scraps rescued from the utter nothingness. Artaud is unable to create works in terms of a potency of the mind in order to sublate this existential nothingness. The only thing that rests possible for him is to rescue some scraps as pointers which show and give a sketch of that what rests beyond this total absence. That is the reason why it is such an issue for Artaud to claim for his poetry despite its limitations at least a mode of existence. He writes: “It is very important to me that the few manifestations of spiritual existence which I have been able to give myself not be regarded as nonexistent because of the blemishes and awkward expressions they contain.” (SW 32)

Furthermore, this poetry of “blemishes” seems to be Artaud’s original grounding as a poet. As a result, he becomes before the law of Jacques Rivière and the NRF an advocate of a poetry of impurity and imperfection:

“For I cannot hope that time or effort will remedy these obscurities or these failings; this is why I lay claim with so much insistence and anxiety to this existence, aborted though it be. And the question I would like to have answered is this: Do you think that one can allow less literary authenticity and effectiveness to a poem which is imperfect but filled with powerful and beautiful things than to a poem which is perfect but without much internal reverberation? I am aware that a magazine like La Nouvelle Revue Française requires a certain formal level and a great purity of content, but granting this, is the substance of my thought so confused, then, and its overall beauty rendered so ineffective by the impurities and hesitations scattered through it that it fails, from the point of view of literature, to exist? It is the whole problem of my thinking that is at stake. The question for me is nothing less than knowing whether or not I have the right to continue to think, in verse or in prose.” (SW 32)

Jacques Rivière’s answer dated on June 25th 1923 indicates that he did not understand the radical dimension of Artaud’s quest for a poetry of imperfection. On the contrary, Rivière interprets Artaud’s imperfections as secondary mistakes which would be possible to avoid by maturity, concentration, an accomplishment of form, and enforcement of the temperament. He writes: “There are in your poems, as I told you from the beginning, awkwardnesses and above all oddities which are disconcerting. But they seem to me to correspond to a certain studied effort on your part rather than to a lack of control over your ideas. / Obviously […] you do not usually succeed in creating a sufficient unity of impression. But I have had enough experience in reading manuscripts to feel that this concentration of your resources on a simple poetic object is not at all ruled out by your temperament and that with a little patience, even if it entails only the elimitation of divergent images or touches, you will succeed in writing poems that are perfectly coherent and harmonious.” (SW 33)

This letter was a disappointment for Artaud. In January 1924, Artaud wrote Rivière again in behalf of his literary existence. In regard to Rivière’s argumentation, Artaud focuses now on the point that the imperfections of his poetry were neither caused by “a lack of practice” nor “a lack of control over the instrument” nor “a lack of intellectual development.” (SW 34) By echoing Derrida’s thought of a speech spirited away, Artaud rather stresses “a central collapse of the soul” (SW 34/35) and “a kind of erusion, both essential and fleeting, of the thought.” (SW 35) Furthermore, he attests a “temporary non-possession of the material benefits” (SW 35) of his development and he suffers “an abnormal separation of the elements of thought” (SW 35). Thus, something furtive destroys and attacks Artaud’s state of mind that he circumscribes in the following words:

“There is something which destroys my thought; something which does not prevent me from being what I might be, but which leaves me, so to speak, in suspension. Something furtive which robs me of the words that I have found, which reduces my mental tension, which is gradually destroying in its substance the body of my thought, which is even robbing me of the memory of those idioms with which one expresses oneself and which translate accurately the most inseparable, the most localized, the most living inflections of thought.” (SW 35)

In a postscript to this letter, Artaud stresses once again his right to write in his own form even though it would appear as a form of imperfection: “I am a man who has suffered much from his mind, and as such I have the right to speak. I know how business is done in there. I have agreed once and for all to give in to my inferiority. And yet I am not stupid. I know that it is possible to think further than I think, and perhaps differently. All I can do is wait for my brain to change, wait for its upper drawers to open. An hour from now, tomorrow perhaps, I will have changed my mind, but this present thought exists, I will not allow my thought to be lost.” (SW 36)

In this context, the following poem with the title Cry appears as a threshold in-between the different parts of the correspondence. The verse “two traditions met” (SW 38) is readable as the confrontation of Rivière (speaking for the NRF and a literary modernity represented by Claudel, Proust, Gide and Copeau) and Artaud as an advocate of the nonconformist tradition of literary outsiders such as Sade, Lautréamont, Nerval, Baudelaire and Jarry. But the ending verse “experiment to be repeated” (SW 38) also points to a possibility of a new beginning of the correspondence.

In his responding-letter from March 25th 1924, Jacques Rivière focuses on Artaud’s “mental ‘erosion’” (SW 39) by referring to a certain problem of the mind that he puts in the following words:

“That the mind has an existence of its own, that it has a tendency to live on its own substance, that it grows over the personality with a kind of egoism and with no concern for keeping the personality in harmony with the world, is something which apparently can no longer, in our time, be debated. Paul Valéry dramatized this autonomy of the thinking function in human beings in a marvelous way in his famous Evening with Monsieur Teste. Regarded in itself, the mind is a kind of canker; it reproduces, it advances constantly in all directions; you note yourself as one of the torments ‘the impulse to think, at each of the terminal stratifications of thought’; the outlets of the mind are unlimited in number; no idea obstructs it; no idea brings it fatigue or satisfaction; even those temporary releases which our physical functions find in exercise are denied it. The man who thinks spends himself totally. Romanticism aside, there is no other escape from pure thought but death.” (SW 39)

Hence, the mind is a force of appropriation by thinking that finally turns against itself because of a lack of limitation. The operations of the mind are only fruitful when the mind stays focused and when it appears as framed by certain limitations. Therefore, Rivière writes: “Here is my idea at closer range: the mind is fragile in that it has need of obstacles – obstacles of its own making. When left itself, it is lost, it is destroyed. It seems to me that this mental ‘erosion’, these internal thefts, this ‘destruction’ of the thought ‘in its substance’ which afflict your mind are the result of the excessive freedom you allow it. It is the absolute that unhinges it. To be taut, the mind needs a boundary and it needs to come up against the blessed opacity of experience. The only cure for madness is the innocence of facts.” (SW 40)

Thus, the mind understood as a force of creation is haunted an finally destructed by an absolute freedom; it can only have and produce sense in relation to something different which is not the mind itself. Therefore, Rivière underlines: “If by thought one means creation, as you seem to most of the time, it must at all costs be relative; one will find security, constancy, strength, only by engaging the mind in something.” (SW 40)

According to Rivière, Antonin Artaud’s poetry and his struggle with an unpower of expression is a “case” (SW 41) par excellence in regard to this problem of the mind. Artaud is suffering from an overabundance to the absolute as immanent operations of the mind but, as Rivière puts it, “language must have hit upon a noiseless object, and sooner than reason would have reached it. But where the object, the obstacle are completely lacking, the mind keeps on going, unswerving and exhausted; and everything falls apart in an immense contingency.” (SW 41) Due to its absolute immanence of the mind and its lack of an opening to the other and the different which would make the mind relative, Artaud’s “intellectual force” (SW 41) appears as “tormented by eddies, riddled with helplessness, exposed to predatory winds that disorganize it; but as soon as, driven back by anguish to your own mind, you direct it at this immediate and enigmatic object, it condenses, intensifies, becomes useful and penetrating and brings you positive benefits; that is, truth expressed with all the three-dimensionality that can make them communicable, accessible to others, in short, something which transcends your suffering, your very existence, something which enlarges and consolidates you, which gives you the only reality that man can reasonably hope to conquer by his own forces, the reality in others.” (SW 41)

According to Rivière, this turn – also in a sense of a transgression of narcissism – is the promise of Artaud’s poetry and a perspective of an accomplishment of his writings. In regard to this problem, Artaud just briefly gives to think that his unpower of expression does not simply come from a mere autistic and immanent operation of the mind. On the contrary, he claims: “it is only because of circumstances that are fortuitous and external to my real possibilities that I do not realize myself.” (SW 42)

As a matter of fact, Artaud claims that his problem or his ‘case’ is already caused by the exposure to the different and the other which was projected by Rivière. Even though he suffers from an unpower of expression he claims and stresses his “potentiality for the crystallization of things, in forms and with the right words.” (SW 42)

In regard to Rivière’s request to publish this ongoing correspondence Artaud underlines once again that his unpower of expression has not to be mistaken in terms of an intellectual crisis or as a mere phenomenon of the spirit of the age (Zeitgeist). Artaud stresses that his unpower of expression corresponds with a radical separation from the world and life itself. It is not a question of an intellectual being inbetween certain degrees of existencial values but a question of living and life itself. Hence, Artaud writes: “As for myself, I can truly say that I am not in the world, and this is not merely an attitude of the mind. […] I would rather show as I am, in my nonexistence and my rootlessness.” (SW 44) Thus, Artaud compares his existential exposure and his state of mind with a “real sickness” (SW 44): “The reader of the age, a sickness which touches the essence of the being and its central possibilities of expression, and which applies to a whole life. / A sickness which affects the soul in its most profound reality, and which infects its manifestations. The poison of being. A veritable paralysis. A sickness which deprives you of speech, memory, which uproots your thought.” (SW 44) This fundamental unpower corresponding with a sickness that makes it impossible for him to express the reality and clarity of a feeling describes Artaud also as an attack of a higher evil on his mind: “And here, monsieur, is the whole problem: to have within oneself the inseparable reality and the physical clarity of a feeling, to have it to such a degree that it is impossible for it not to be expressed, to have a wealth of words, of acquired turns of phrase capable of joining the dance, coming into play; and the moment the soul is preparing to organize its wealth, its discoveries, this revelation, at that unconscious moment when the thing is on the point of coming forth, a superior and evil will attacks the soul like a poison, attacks the mass consisting of word and image, attacks the mass of feeling, and leaves me panting as if at the very door of life.” (SW 45)

In his remarkable letter of June 8th 1924 which is finishing the correspondence, Jacques Rivière is once again responding to Artaud’s fundamental exposure to an unpower of expression. Even though Rivière does not dare to compare Artaud’s sufferings from life with his own feelings, he stresses that he also knows existential fears. Therefore, his quest for a concentration on form does not imply a naïve sublation of tensions in the sense of a trivial formal harmony. He writes: “Like you, I reject the convenient symbol of inspiration to explain the alternate states through which I pass. It is a question of something more profound, something more ‘substantial’, if I may twist the meaning of this word, than a fair wind which may or may not come to me from the depths of my mind; it is a question of gradations which I pass through in my own reality. Not voluntarily, alas! but in a purely accidental matter.” (SW 47)

Hence, Rivière is also haunted by the negativity of existence but more in the sense of a negative dialectics: beyond his exposure to negativity he is still able to have an impression of his reality, even though he is struggling and not sure to reach this still projected reality. This condition and this important difference in regard to Artaud becomes obvious when Rivière writes: “One thing that is remarkable is that the very fact of my existence is never for me, as you observe in yourself, the object of serious doubt; there always remains something of myself, but it is very often something poor, clumsy, weak, and almost suspect. In such moments I do not lose all hope of ever recovering it. It is like a roof over me which hangs in the air by a miracle, and to which I see no way of raising myself.” (SW 47)

By dealing with the problem of an exposure to a “transcendental homelessness” (Georg Lukàcs), Rivière still believes in a dialectic turn from the exposure to negativity into a certain insight of truth: “Someone who does not know depression, who has never felt the soul encroached upon the body, invaded by its weakness, is incapable of perceiving any truth about the nature of man; one must go beneath the surface, one must look at the underside; one must lose the ability to move, or hope, or believe, in order to observe accurately. How are we to distinguish our intellectual or moral mechanisms unless we are temporarily deprived of them? It must be the consolation of those who experience death in small doses this way that they are the only ones who know anything about how life is made.” (SW 48)

On the contrary, Artaud’s existential exposure is slightly different and perhaps even more radical because the dialectical movement is no longer applicable for him. His “transcendental homelessness” points to an exposure of homelessness as homelessness whereas Rivière still had his roof over him “which hangs in the air by a miracle” (SW 47) and on which he could rely on.

Tragically, Artaud’s more radical existential homelessness becomes clear in 1937: In a cryptic text called The New Revelations of Being, Artaud writes towards the beginning of his break-down which will lead to detentions in mental institutions up to spring 1946, the following disconcerting and sad words which are also readable/understandable as a late commentary to his famous correspondence with Jacques Rivière: “For a long time I have felt the Void, but I have refused to throw myself into the Void. / I have been as cowardly as all that I see. / When I believed that I was denying this world, I know now that I was denying the Void. / For I know that this world does not exist and I know how it does not exist. / What I have suffered from until now is having denied the Void. / The Void which was already in me. /

I know that someone wanted to enlighten me by means of the Void and that I refused to let myself be enlightened. / If I was turned into a funeral pyre, it was in order to cure me of being in the world. / And world took everything I had. / I struggled to try to exist, to try to accept the forms (all the forms) with which the delirious illusion of being in the world has clothed reality. /

I no longer want to be one of the Deluded. / Dead to the world, to what composes the world for everyone else, fallen at last, fallen, risen in this void which I was denying, I have a body which suffers the world and disgorges reality. […]

It is a real Desperate Person who speaks to you and who has not known the happiness of being in the world until now that he has left this world, now that he is absolutely separated from it. The others who have died are not separated. They still turn around their dead bodies. / I am not dead, but I am separated.” (SW 413/414

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:41 pm

To Have Done with the Judgement of God, a radio play by Antonin Artaud


kré puc te
kré Everything must puk te
pek be arranged li le
kre to a hair pek ti le
e in a fulminating kruk
pte order.

I learned yesterday
(I must be behind the times, or perhaps it's only a false rumor,
one of those pieces of spiteful gossip that are circulated between
sink and latrine at the hour when meals that have been ingurgitated
one more time are thrown in the slop buckets),
I learned yesterday
one of the most sensational of those official practices of American
public schools
which no doubt account for the fact that this country believes itself
to be in the vanguard of progress,
It seems that, among the examinations or tests required of a child
entering public school for the first time, there is the so-called
seminal fluid or sperm test,
which consists of asking this newly entering child for a small
amount of his sperm so it can be placed in a jar
and kept ready for any attempts at artificial insemination that
might later take place.
For Americans are finding more and more that they lack muscle
and children,
that is, not workers
but soldiers,
and they want at all costs and by every possible means to make
and manufacture soldiers
with a view to all the planetary wars which might later take place,
and which would be intended to demonstrate by the overwhelming
virtues of force
the superiority of American products,
and the fruits of American sweat in all fields of activity and of the
superiority of the possible dynamism of force.
Because one must produce,
one must by all possible means of activity replace nature
wherever it can be replaced,
one must find a major field of action for human inertia,
the worker must have something to keep him busy,
new fields of activity must be created,
in which we shall see at last the reign of all the fake manufactured
of all the vile synthetic substitutes
in which beatiful real nature has no part,
and must give way finally and shamefully before all the victorious
substitute products
in which the sperm of all artificial insemination factories
will make a miracle
in order to produce armies and battleships.
No more fruit, no more trees, no more vegetables, no more plants
pharmaceutical or otherwise and consequently no more food,
but synthetic products to satiety,
amid the fumes,
amid the special humors of the atmosphere, on the particular axes
of atmospheres wrenched violently and synthetically from the
resistances of a nature which has known nothing of war except
And war is wonderful, isn't it?
For it's war, isn't it, that the Americans have been preparing for
and are preparing for this way step by step.
In order to defend this senseless manufacture from all competition
that could not fail to arise on all sides,
one must have soldiers, armies, airplanes, battleships,
hence this sperm
which it seems the governments of America have had the effrontery
to think of.
For we have more than one enemy
lying in wait for us, my son,
we, the born capitalists,
and among these enemies
Stalin's Russia
which also doesn't lack armed men.

All this is very well,
but I didn't know the Americans were such a warlike people.
In order to fight one must get shot at
and although I have seen many Americans at war
they always had huge armies of tanks, airplanes, battleships
that served as their shield.
I have seen machines fighting a lot
but only infinitely far
them have I seen the men who directed them.
Rather than people who feed their horses, cattle, and mules the
last tons of real morphine they have left and replace it with
substitutes made of smoke,
I prefer the people who eat off the bare earth the delirium from
which they were born
I mean the Tarahumara
eating Peyote off the ground
while they are born,
and who kill the sun to establish the kingdom of black night,
and who smash the cross so that the spaces of spaces can never
again meet and cross.

And so you are going to hear the dance of TUTUGURI.

The Rite of the Black Sun
And below, as if at the foot of the bitter slope,
cruelly despairing at the heart,
gapes the circle of the six crosses,
very low
as if embedded in the mother earth,
wrenched from the foul embrace of the mother
who drools.

The earth of black coal
is the only damp place
in this cleft rock.

The Rite is that the new sun passes through seven points before
blazing on the orifice of the earth.

And there are six men,
one for each sun,
and a seventh man
who is the sun
in the raw
dressed in black and in red flesh.

But, this seventh man
is a horse,
a horse with a man leading him.

But it is the horse
who is the sun
and not the man.

At the anguish of a drum and a long trumpet,
the six men
who were lying down,
rolling level with the ground,
leap up one by one like sunflowers,
not like suns
but turning earths,
water lilies,
and each leap
corresponds to the increasingly somber
and restrained
gong of the drum
until suddenly he comes galloping, at vertiginous speed,
the last sun,
the first man,
the black horse with a

naked man,
absolutely naked
and virgin
riding it.

After they leap up, they advance in winding circles
and the horse of bleeding meat rears
and prances without a stop
on the crest of his rock
until the six men
have surrounded
the six crosses.

Now, the essence of the Rite is precisely

When they have stopped turning
they uproot
the crosses of earth
and the naked man
on the horse
holds up
an enormous horseshoe
which he has dipped in a gash of his blood.

The Pursuit of Fecality
There where it smells of shit
it smells of being.
Man could just as well not have shat,
not have opened the anal pouch,
but he chose to shit
as he would have chosen to live
instead of consenting to live dead.

Because in order not to make caca,
he would have had to consent
not to be,
but he could not make up his mind to lose
that is, to die alive.

There is in being
something particularly tempting for man
and this something is none other than
(Roaring here.)

To exist one need only let oneself be,
but to live,
one must be someone,
to be someone,
one must have a BONE,
not be afraid to show the bone,
and to lose the meat in the process.

Man has always preferred meat
to the earth of bones.
Because there was only earth and wood of bone,
and he had to earn his meat,
there was only iron and fire
and no shit,
and man was afraid of losing shit
or rather he desired shit
and, for this, sacrificed blood.

In order to have shit,
that is, meat,
where there was only blood
and a junkyard of bones
and where there was no being to win
but where there was only life to lose.

o reche modo
to edire
di za
tau dari
do padera coco

At this point, man withdrew and fled.

Then the animals ate him.

It was not a rape,
he lent himself to the obscene meal.

He relished it,
he learned himself
to act like an animal
and to eat rat

And where does this foul debasement come from?

The fact that the world is not yet formed,
or that man has only a small idea of the world
and wants to hold on to it forever?

This comes from the fact that man,
one fine day,
the idea of the world.

Two paths were open to him:
that of the infinite without,
that of the infinitesimal within.

And he chose the infinitesimal within.
Where one need only squeeze
the spleen,
the tongue,
the anus
or the glans.

And god, god himself squeezed the movement.

Is God a being?
If he is one, he is shit.
If he is not one
he does not exist.

But he does not exist,
except as the void that approaches with all its forms
whose most perfect image
is the advance of an incalculable group of crab lice.

"You are mad Mr. Artaud, what about the mass?"

I deny baptism and the mass.
There is no human act,
on the internal erotic level,
more pernicious than the descent
of the so-called jesus-christ
onto the altars.

No one will believe me
and I can see the public shrugging its shoulders
but the so-called christ is none other than he
who in the presence of the crab louse god
consented to live without a body,
while an army of men
descended from a cross,
to which god thought he had long since nailed them,
has revolted,
and, armed with steel,
with blood,
with fire, and with bones,
advances, reviling the Invisible
to have done with GOD'S JUDGMENT.

The Question Arises ...
What makes it serious
is that we know
that after the order
of this world
there is another.

What is it like?

We do not know.

The number and order of possible suppositions in
this realm
is precisely

And what is infinity?

That is precisely what we do not know!

It is a word
that we use
to indicate
the opening
of our consciousness
toward possibility
beyond measure,
tireless and beyond measure.

And precisely what is consciousness?

That is precisely what we do not know.

It is nothingness.

A nothingness
that we use
to indicate
when we do not know something
from what side
we do not know it
and so
we say
from the side of consciousness,
but there are a hundred thousand other sides.


It seems that consciousness
in us is
to sexual desire
and to hunger;

but it could
just as well
not be linked
to them.

One says,
one can say,
there are those who say
that consciousness
is an appetite,
the appetite for living;

and immediately
alongside the appetite for living,
it is the appetite for food
that comes immediately to mind;

as if there were not people who eat
without any sort of appetite;
and who are hungry.

For this too
to be hungry
without appetite;


the space of possibility
was given to me one day
like a loud fart
that I will make;
but neither of space,
nor possibility,
did I know precisely what it was,

and I did not feel the need to think about it,

they were words
invented to define things
that existed
or did not exist
in the face of
the pressing urgency
of a need:
the need to abolish the idea,
the idea and its myth,
and to enthrone in its place
the thundering manifestation
of this explosive necessity:
to dilate the body of my internal night,

the internal nothingness
of my self

which is night,

but which is explosive affirmation
that there is
to make room for:

my body.

And truly
must it be reduced to this stinking gas,
my body?
To say that I have a body
because I have a stinking gas
that forms
inside me?

I do not know
I do know that


are nothing to me;

but there is a thing
which is something,
only one thing
which is something,
and which I feel
because it wants
the presence
of my bodily

the menacing,
never tiring
of my

however hard people press me with questions
and however vigorously I deny all questions,
there is a point
at which I find myself compelled
to say no,

to negation;

and this point
comes when they press me,

when they pressure me
and when they handle me
until the exit
from me
of nourishment,
of my nourishment
and its milk,

and what remains?

That I am suffocated;

and I do not know if it is an action
but in pressing me with questions this way
until the absence
and nothingness
of the question
they pressed me
until the idea of body
and the idea of being a body
was suffocated
in me,

and it was then that I felt the obscene

and that I farted
from folly
and from excess
and from revolt
at my suffocation.

Because they were pressing me
to my body
and to the very body

and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched.

- And what was the purpose of this broadcast, Mr. Artaud?

- Primarily to denounce certain social obscenities officially sanctioned and acknowledged:

this emission of infantile sperm donated by children for the artificial insemination of fetuses yet to be born and which will be born in a century or more.

To denounce, in this same American people who occupy the whole surface of the former Indian continent, a rebirth of that warlike imperialism of early America that caused the pre-Columbian Indian tribes to be degraded by the aforesaid people.

- You are saying some very bizarre things, Mr. Artaud.

- Yes, I am saying something bizarre, that contrary to everything we have been led to believe, the pre-Columbian Indians were a strangely civilized people and that in fact they knew a form of civilization based exclusively on the principle of cruelty.

- And do you know precisely what is meant by cruelty?

- Offhand, no, I don't.

- Cruelty means eradicating by means of blood and until blood flows, god, the bestial accident of unconscious human animality, wherever one can find it.

- Man, when he is not restrained, is an erotic animal,
he has in him an inspired shudder,
a kind of pulsation
that produces animals without number which are the form that the ancient tribes of the earth universally attributed to god.
This created what is called a spirit.
Well, this spirit originating with the American Indians is reappearing all over the world today under scientific poses which merely accentuate its morbid infectuous power, the marked condition of vice, but a vice that pullulates with diseases,
because, laugh if you like,
what has been called microbes

is god,
and do you know what the Americans and the Russians use to make their atoms?
They make them with the microbes of god.
- You are raving, Mr. Artaud.
You are mad.

- I am not raving.
I am not mad.
I tell you that they have reinvented microbes in order to impose a new idea of god.

They have found a new way to bring out god and to capture him in his microbic noxiousness.

This is to nail him though the heart,
in the place where men love him best,
under the guise of unhealthy sexuality,
in that sinister appearance of morbid cruelty that he adopts
whenever he is pleased to tetanize and madden humanity as he
is doing now.

He utilizes the spirit of purity and of a consciousness that has
remained candid like mine to asphyxiate it with all the false
appearances that he spreads universally through space and this
is why Artaud le Mômo can be taken for a person suffering
from hallucinations.

- What do you mean, Mr. Artaud?

- I mean that I have found the way to put an end to this ape once and for all
and that although nobody believes in god any more everybody believes more and more in man.

So it is man whom we must now make up our minds to emasculate.

- How's that?

How's that?

No matter how one takes you you are mad, ready for the straitjacket.
- By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy.
I say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,

and with god
his organs.

For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.

When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.

They you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Jun 12, 2011 9:45 pm

Six Litanies For Heliogabalus, by John Zorn, dedicated to Antonin Artaud

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:11 pm
Voice of Artaud.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Guest on Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:50 am

Hey Eddie...just logged on and am now in downtown Cairns. I'm surrounded by upmarket backpackers speaking in a range of interesting English accents or in colourful foreign languages. The internet connection is fast but either the seats are low or the desk is high because my foot is going numb as I type because I'm sitting on it in an effort to raise myself up to the keyboard. The computer prince salvaged all of my music, photos and word files...oh happy day! I'm going home in two days and will be online as soon as I unpack the car. Very Happy
I see you've been busy here.


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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Wed Jun 15, 2011 1:32 pm

Hi there, Moony.

Hope you had a relaxing time.

It'll be good to see you back here again.

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Guest on Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:42 am

Artaud to Nin

in the arena
unsheltered and huddled
his audience shocked into feeling

the primal hovers
and drops

in the wings
he whispers to Nin
for this

vague anxieties released
in the first scream…
blood-lust in the second

then the audience leave with clean hands.

in the wings
he whispers to Nin
for this

Blue Moon

Anais Nin
"The light was crude. It made Artaud's eyes shrink into darkness, as they are deep-set. This brought into relief the intensity of his gestures. He looked tormented. His hair, rather long, fell at times over his forehead. He has the actor's nimbleness and quickness of gestures. His face is lean, as if ravaged by fevers. His eyes do not seem to see the people. They are the eyes of a visionary. His hands are long, long-fingered.
Beside him Allendy looks earthy, heavy, gray. He sits at the desk, massive, brooding. Artaud steps out on the platform, and begins to talk about " The Theatre and the Plague."
He asked me to sit in the front row. It seems to me that all he is asking for is intensity, a more heightened form of feeling and living. Is he trying to remind us that it was during the Plague that so many marvelous works of art and theater came to be, because, whipped by the fear of death, man seeks immortality, or to escape, or to surpass himself? But then, imperceptibly almost, he let go of the thread we were following and began to act out dying by plague. No one quite knew when it began. To illustrate his conference, he was acting out an agony. "La Peste" in French is so much more terrible than "The Plague" in English. But no word could describe what Artaud acted out on the platform of the Sorbonne. He forgot about his conference, the theatre, his ideas, Dr. Allendy sitting there, the public, the young students, his wife, professors, and directors.
His face was contorted with anguish, one could see the perspiration dampening his hair. His eyes dilated, his muscles became cramped, his fingers struggled to retain their flexibility. He made one feel the parched and burning throat, the pains, the fever, the fire in the guts. He was in agony. He was screaming. He was delirious. He was enacting his own death, his own crucifixion.
At first people gasped. And then they began to laugh. Everyone was laughing! They hissed. Then, one by one, they began to leave, noisily, talking, protesting. They banged the door as they left. The only ones who did not move were Allendy, his wife, the Lalous, Marguerite. More protestations. More jeering. But Artaud went on, until the last gasp. And stayed on the floor. Then when the hall had emptied of all but his small group of friends, he walked straight up to me and kissed my hand. He asked me to go to the cafe with him. "
— Anaïs Nin


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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:10 pm


Was this a description of AA's lecture at the Vieux Colombier after he'd been released from the loony bin?

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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Guest on Wed Aug 03, 2011 8:45 pm

eddie wrote:^ Was this a description of AA's lecture at the Vieux Colombier after he'd been released from the loony bin? was at the Sorbonne 14 years earlier.

Artaud gave 3 public lectures:...he theatrical at all three.

SORBONNE 1933...about The Theatre and the Plague.
BRUSSELLS 1937...subject 'the decomposition of Paris'
VIEUX-COLUMBIER in 1947 (after release from the asylums)...he began by reading some poems before launching into 'wild improvisation'

Anaïs Nin and Artaud at the Sorbonne 1933
On 6 April 1933, the writer Anaïs Nin attended a lecture given by Antonin Artaud at the Sorbonne
on the subject ‘Theatre and the Plague’. She sat in the front row because he had asked her to.

...Nin continues from the above (...^...^...) text:
He asked meto go the the cafe.Artaud and I walked out in a fine mist. We walked, walked
through the dark streets. He was hurt, wounded, baffled by the jeering. He spat
out his anger. “They always want to hear about; they want to hear an objective
conference on the Theatre and the Plague, I want to give them the experience
itself. The plague itself, so they will be terrified, and awaken. I want to awaken
them. Because they do not realise they are dead. Their death is total, like
deafness and blindness. This is agony I portrayed. Mine, yes, and everyone who
is alive... I feel sometimes that I am not writing, but describing the struggles
with writing, the struggles of birth.”

The following extract is from her diary a month earlier:

In her diary for March 1933 Anaïs Nin gives a vivid picture of Artaud, whom she had met because she was a student of psychoanalysis with Dr. Allendy:

Artaud. Lean, taut. A haunt face with visionary eyes. A sardonic manner. Now weary, now fiery and malicious. The theatre for him, is a place to shout pain, anger, hatred, to enact the violence in us. . . . He is the drugged, contracted being who walks always alone, who is seeking to produce plays which are like scenes of torture. His eyes are blue with languor, black with pain. He is all nerves. Yet he was beautiful acting the monk in love with Joan of Arc in the Carl Dreyer film. . . . Allendy had told me that he had tried to free Artaud of the drug habit which was destroying him. All I could see that evening was his revolt against interpretations. He was impatient with their presence, as if they prevented him from exaltation. He talked with fire about the Cabala, magic, myths, legends. [The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. I, pp. 195-96.] [47]

Artaud was writing his book on Heliogabalus, and long love letters to Nin. While meeting at a café in June, pouring out poetry, talking of magic, he told her, "People think I am mad." Then he asked, "Do you think I am mad? Is that what frightens you?" If she responded to him directly, we'll never know, but she answers in her diary:

I knew at the moment, by his eyes, that he was, and that I loved his madness. I looked at his mouth, with the edges darkened by laudanum, a mouth I did not want to kiss. To be kissed by Artaud was to be drawn towards death, towards insanity. "I am Heliogabalus, the mad Roman emperor, because he becomes everything he writes about." In the taxi he pushed back his hair from his ravaged face. The beauty of the summer day did not touch him. He stood up in the taxi and, stretching out his arms, he pointed to the crowded streets: "The revolution will come soon. All this will be destroyed. The world must be destroyed. It is corrupt and dull of ugliness. It is full of mummies, I tell you. Roman decadence. Death. I wanted a theatre that would be like a shock treatment, galvanize, shock people into feeling." For the first time it seemed to me that Artaud was living in such a fantasy world that it was for himself he wanted a violent shock, to feel the reality of it, or the incarnating power of a great passion. But as he stood and shouted and spat with fury, the crowd stared at him and the taxi driver became nervous. (Ibid., pp. 238-239) [48]'


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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  Guest on Sat Aug 13, 2011 9:53 pm

"I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide,
but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit,
made me want to hang myself, realizing that I would not be able to cut his throat."
Antonin artaud

Antonin Artaud - Letter to the Medical Directors of Lunatic Asylums


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Re: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Post  eddie on Wed Jan 18, 2012 3:58 am

Notes from a Theatre of Cruelty

I employ the word "cruelty" in the sense of an appetite for life, a cosmic rigor, an implacable necessity, in the gnostic sense of a living whirlwind that devours the darkness; it is the consequence of an act. Everything that acts is a cruelty. It is upon this idea of extreme action, pushed beyond all limits, that theatre must be rebuilt.

Gifted actors find by instinct how to tap and radiate certain powers; but they would be astonished if it were revealed that these powers, which have their material trajectory by and in the organs, actually exist, for they never realized that these sources of energy actually exist in their own bodies, in their organs.

Psychology, which works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and the ordinary, is the cause of the theater's abasement and its fearful loss of energy, which has finally reached its lowest point.

The belief in a fluid materiality of the soul is indispensable to the actor's craft. To know that a passion is material, that it is subject to the plastic fluctuations of the material, makes accessible an empire of passions that extend our sovereignty.

Furthermore, when we speak the word "life", it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from the surface of fact, but to that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, when instead we should become as victims burning at the stake, signaling each other through the flames.

And what is infinity ? We do not know exactly. It is a word we use to indicate WIDENING of our consciousness towards an inordinate, inexhaustible feasibility.

To make metaphysics out of a spoken language is to make the language express what it does not ordinarily express. It is to make use of it in a new, exceptional and unaccustomed fashion; to reveal its possibilities for producing physical shock; to deal with intonations in an absolutely concrete manner, restoring their power to shatter as well as to really manifest something and finally, to consider language as Incantation.

The true purpose of the theatre is to create Myths, to express life in its immense universal aspect, and from that life to extract images in which we find pleasure in discovering ourselves.

If our life lacks a constant magic, it is because we choose to observe our acts and lose ourselves in consideration of their imagined form instead of being impelled by their force. No matter how loudly we clamor for magic in our lives, we are really afraid of pursuing an existence entirely under its influence and sign.


Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud, better known as Antonin Artaud (born September 4, 1896, in Marseille; died March 4, 1948 in Paris) was a French playwright, poet, actor and director.

In his book The Theatre and Its Double, Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinese. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized physicality of Balinese dance performance, and advocated what he called a "Theatre of Cruelty". By cruelty, he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all expression is physical expression in space.

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